Guantánamo installs former USS Nimitz commander as 18th prison boss in stealth ceremony

The sun sets on Guantánamo’s Detention Center, Feb. 10, 2017. The military approved release of this photo.
The sun sets on Guantánamo’s Detention Center, Feb. 10, 2017. The military approved release of this photo.

Navy Rear Adm. John Ring, a former commander of the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier, became the 18th commander of Guantánamo prison operations on Tuesday, taking charge of a 1,700-member military and civilian staff responsible for 41 war-on-terror captives.

The prison spokeswoman, Navy Cmdr. Anne Leanos, disclosed after the fact that Navy Adm. Kurt Tidd, commander of the U.S. Southern Command, installed Ring and relieved Rear Adm. Edward Cashman in a ceremony that was closed to non-military media coverage. The ceremony was not recorded, Leanos said, but photographs posted on Twitter showed it was held inside the Navy base church overlooked McDonalds, not in the Detention Center Zone.

Cashman took over in April2017 in a ceremony that was open to independent press coverage. He became the first new commander of the prison of the Trump administration, a period when, despite President Donald Trump's campaign pledge to pack the prison cells, no new captives were added. Cashman's next assignment is with a U.S. Navy force assigned to a NATO mission.

Cashman presided during a period when the detention center staff stripped the words "legal" and "transparent" from its mission statement. He also implemented a policy directive from the Pentagon that, for the first time, declared detainee art projects U.S. government property and halted the release of artwork for the public to see.

Pentagon spokesmen said officials were troubled by an art exhibit in New York that offered to sell the art of already released war-on-terror detainees. The prison then stripped a once proud stop for guests from distinguished visitors to reporters to see the ingenious prisoners' art projects, and photograph them.

​Guantánamo detention center commander, Rear Adm. Edward B. Cashman, answers questions about the Detainee Art Program during a press conference at the Media Operations Center at Camp Justice in ​Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Navy Rear Adm. John Clinton Ring in an official photo taken before he arrived at Guantánamo. U.S. Navy Guantánamo prison handout

Ring takes over ahead of the Ramadan holiday, generally a peaceful time at the prison, and ahead of a busy time of demolition of empty prison cells that Cashman inherited. Those include the base's iconic Camp X-Ray and also the first prisoner-of-war-style internment site, Camp Four.

Also, the Pentagon is negotiating the repatriation from Guantánamo of a Saudi man who pleaded guilty to being an al-Qaida terrorist and then turned prosecution informant. If it happens, it would be Trump's first release from the detention center.

Ring would preside over preliminary planning for a new $115 million barracks for prison troops — the most ambitious, permanent and costly construction project ever of the detention center that opened on Jan. 11, 2002. The Pentagon also has asked Congress for $69 million to build a new Top Secret prison for 15 captives who were previously held in the CIA's secret prison network, the Black Sites.

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Leanos said Ring was unavailable to speak with reporters on Tuesday but was considering meeting with journalists coming to the base April 28 for a pretrial hearing in the Sept. 11 death-penalty case.

Wednesday, she said the admiral's speech upon assuming command included these lines: "The big talking heads will tell us once in a while that America has been at war for the past 17 years. I don’t think so. America is focused on getting the kids to soccer, how high the stock market will go today, or how low, and who was the subject of the latest tweet storm.

"You know what, that may be okay. America’s armed forces have been at war for 17 years. Many on the [detention center staff] have spent most of those 17 years away from home, missing those soccer games and all the other family events."

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg